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The Contribution of the Third Sector to Europe’s Socio-economic Development

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The third sector’s hidden potential

Non-profit organisations and volunteers are bringing much-needed socioeconomic support to Europe. A new look at the sector helps clarify its role and point the way forward.

Society

Today’s faltering economies around the world have had negative repercussions on society and its well-being from many perspectives. Under such social and economic pressure, both the public and private sectors are not always able to meet the needs of society. Enter the third sector – i.e. the economic sector including voluntary, non-governmental and non-profit organisations – which represents a unique ‘renewal resource’ that provides social and economic support. The EU-funded THIRD SECTOR IMPACT (The contribution of the third sector to Europe’s socio-economic development) project worked on defining and assessing the impact and reach of the third sector. It aimed to support researchers, policymakers and citizens to advance the sector’s effectiveness in helping socioeconomic development. First and foremost, the project looked at outlining a common definition and understanding of what exactly the third sector across Europe covers. It worked on identifying the sector’s size and its various components, in addition to measuring the sector’s social and economic impact. Another important project objective included determining barriers that delay progress and the best way to address them. As many as 30 researchers from 10 different European universities worked on achieving the project’s objectives, supported by input from over 100 stakeholders across Europe. Among the project’s key findings, the third sector was estimated to engage the full-time equivalent of 28.3 million workers across Europe, both paid and volunteering, accounting for almost 13 % of the workforce. Findings also revealed several positive socioeconomic impacts of the third sector, including on employment, although the lack of data about the sector in many cases hinders obtaining concrete figures. Barriers to third sector development included unorganised volunteering, increased bureaucratisation, diminished funding, and lack of infrastructure and public space. Standardised procedures such as the UN handbook for NGOs and the International Labour Organization’s manual on measuring volunteer work can help bring order to the sector. The third sector is pivotal for social and economic problem solving and civic engagement in Europe, especially in times of economic crisis. Understanding the knowledge gaps in the sector and its potential in solving problems can help support European governments in furthering social cohesion and economic development.

Keywords

Third sector, non-profit organisations, THIRD SECTOR IMPACT, socioeconomic development, volunteering

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